The mantra of achieving an “improved quality of life for all” is the government’s vision for the next four years. That much we know from the Strategy for the Development of Samoa (S.D.S) 2016 – 2020 launched by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi yesterday (read story).
The S.D.S sets out a path for the government to follow, identifying the priority goals and as well as the actions needed to achieve them.
“We do not want anyone left behind,” the government promises. “As we progress, we need to ensure vulnerable groups can equally share in our progress.”
Well this is wonderful. Who doesn’t feel a sense of pride when a government takes the time and effort to think of everyone – including the very poor people among us - with the idea of elevating their prospects in life? Don’t we become more nationalistically strong as a result, unquestionably more united, enormously optimistic?
Surely this has got to be the most wonderful piece of news we’ve heard for a while. But then promises are empty and shallow until we see the results; aren’t they?
Which means we should give it some time to see if they would actually walk the talk. We say this because everywhere we look today, our leaders are saying some wonderful stuff.
But that’s about it. Sad to say, it’s all empty rhetoric. We’ve all heard it before.
Let’s be reminded that there are real issues in paradise we believe should be at the forefront of our national conversation. We believe it should be the focus of any strategy to develop this nation. It involves the sorting out of such serious problems as child labour, poverty, hardship, thefts, robberies and so forth.
You see, when we peel away the top layers of life in paradise, you will find that these problems are getting worse and they demand serious attention.
Let’s consider the question of hardship and poverty for instance. A lot of people say that this does not exist in Samoa. They have a point.
Yet, if you look at the number of beggars on the streets and those street vendors at all hours of the night, would they be out there if there was no poverty? If they had a choice – apart from getting poorer – would they be so willing to brave the elements just to sell something for a tala?
Think about those young boys and girls who are on the streets every night, every day? Would they be there if they did not need to? Would their parents have been so ruthless to push them towards danger if they had a choice?
The problem is that from where we can see, these people are desperate. They are so poor and are stuck in a rut called poverty that they are forced to do the unthinkable.
It’s a poverty of jobs, poverty of ways to earn money and poverty of opportunity that ultimately results in the poverty of your stomach.
And in a country where there is a growing reliance on money, if you don’t have a job to earn money, you’re bound to go hungry. Your children will end up starving. That’s the bottom line. And that’s why these people are on the streets.
We must never forget the caution about poverty, depression and hardships from Sociologist Pei Tauilii’li Reupena.
A while ago, he urged the government to take the lead in addressing these issues. Ironically, Pei raised the point when his opinion was sought over the spike in the number of suicide cases during the recent past.
“Poverty, traumatic events, depression and psychological pressure leads to suicide,” he said at the time. “It leads to unstable psychological thinking and people usually struggle. If you’re successful, spiritually, physically, psychologically, you’re always happy.
“But if there are factors that stand in front of you and interrupt how you survive, it leads to poverty, sickness and sometimes suicide.”
Looking at Samoa today, Pei said far too many people are struggling to make ends meet. He estimates that about 90 per cent of families in Samoa are struggling with the cost of living, low incomes with many of them living in poverty.
“The truth is, many people are struggling to put food on the table because of the lack of income,” he said. “What is happening right now is the gap between the rich and poor in Samoa is getting wide. Only between five to seven families in Samoa are enjoying this ‘economic success’. They call it economic success, I call it a disaster.”
Pei added that people like Cabinet Ministers, Parliamentarians, C.E.Os and their assistants are not affected by the economic climate because they are well looked after.
“But the majority of people who are not working, who are on lesser wages, are living below the poverty line because of inflation. I would say about 90 per cent are struggling socially and economically. They are very poor,” he said. “We’ve got babies dying from malnutrition and it’s unusual.”
Folks, that was a few years ago.
Now take a good look at Samoa today and see what you think.
Have a fabulous Friday Samoa, God bless!